Portage of parents on either side of the mask debate on school sidewalks in protest

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PORTAGE, MI – Parents brought their placards and loud voices to the streets on Friday to share their views on both for and against a mask mandate in Portage schools.

Parents on both sides of the dispute met on the sidewalks outside Portage Central High School on Friday, August 13, where some protested and others in favor of Portage Public Schools’ implementation of a mask mandate for the next school year.

The district has not imposed masks but recommends them, spokeswoman Michelle Karpinski said. Some parents fight to change the minds of the administrators while the other party pleads to keep a mandate out of the district.

“I want parents to be able to choose what is best for their families for their families,” said Parent Kimberly Larson. “I don’t want there to be a warrant because parents know what’s best for their children.”

The anti-mandate group held placards pleading for parental choice and exclaiming “freedom versus fear”. The group also performed the national anthem. As drivers sounded their support by honking their horns as they passed Center Avenue, a child held up a sign that read “See my smile.”

Across the street, pro-mask families held placards in favor of requiring all students to wear masks, saying public health should not be political.

Rebecca Leitow, a mother of four from the district who are too young to be vaccinated, said a school mask mandate gave her hope to bring her children back to in-person learning in Portage.

“Then the carpet was taken from me,” Leitow said of the district’s July announcement that it no longer needed masks. “Now we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do because I don’t feel safe sending my four children without a vaccine, without a mask.

“We’re really, really frustrated with the district for not making the choice to protect our children. “

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new mask guidelines, including recommending that everyone in K-12 schools wear them, regardless of vaccination status.

Portage will require masks if the Kalamazoo County Department of Health and Human Services imposes masks in schools, in which case the decision would be out of administration control, Karpinski said.

The health department is currently recommending masks, so that is what the district is doing, she said.

A similar debate took place in schools in Mattawan earlier this week. A four-hour Board of Education meeting ended with a tie vote on whether to mandate masks after dozens of parents opposed a mandate.

Serious illnesses from COVID-19 are rare in children and rarely result in hospitalization or death, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Among reporting states, children made up 1.5% to 3.5% of total accumulated hospitalizations, according to the academy’s latest analysis of state data. In Michigan, 15 people between the ages of 10 and 19 have died. There are no deaths recorded among the 0-9s, the academy reports.

Over the past five weeks, the largest increase in new coronavirus cases has been reported among children aged 9 and under, according to Michigan data.

The number of confirmed cases among the youngest segment of the state’s population rose 3.5% from July 2 to August 9, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Also on MLive:

Unvaccinated students must be tested weekly for COVID-19 at Western Michigan University

Masks are “muzzles,” say parents ahead of Southwest Michigan school’s failed vote to mandate

Counties with high COVID transmission double in Michigan, reinforcing need to mask

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